Malala Yousafzai: Bringing Hope

By Constance Anderson Tate, World Service Council Chair and World YWCA UN Volunteer.

Today was a beautiful end-of-summer day in New York and yet not really a normal day at all over at the United Nations – more of a totally inspiring one! Some five hundred young people had lined up in a block-long queue at the gate by ten o’clock and later filled every seat in the large Trusteeship Council room to hear Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon share their strong thoughts about educational goals for women and hopes for the world’s future. For those of us who accompanied five young Afghan women students to the event, the session was also a reminder of the dangerous conditions facing girls in many countries and the harsh or challenging road that lies ahead for so many.

The two speakers didn’t disappoint at all. Ban Ki Moon spoke of calling Malala two years ago when she was recovering from the Taliban’s attempt to assassinate her in a bus and of her words then – how she said, “I’ve been shot but I can still walk and I can still talk and I can do anything to help, especially women and girls.” He also spoke of all the crises facing the world today, saying that war stops all kinds of progress, but that we have to “put out the fires” and “keep the flame of hope alive,” working for major millennium goals such as women’s education and an end to poverty along with desperately needed sustainable development – the “defining issue of our times!”

Malala spoke just as strongly about her dream of seeing every child in the world able to go to school but also of the bad conditions that she has seen in her recent months of travel and trying to help with the Malala Fund that has been created in her honor. She spoke of seeing many of the 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan with 60,000 of them being children who now have no school. Also of her own country Pakistan, where so many girls are stuck in domestic child labour and never have a chance at education or a life before they are married off at age 13 or 14. As a contrast, she then held up the country of Trinidad and Tobago where oil and gas revenues have been used so that every person in the country gets a FREE education. As she concluded to great applause, this should truly be the goal for every country. gal-land-Malala-600x400

As Ban Ki Moon and Malala spoke, the youth audience of all nationalities responded with many of their own questions and goals, asking how to take first steps and how to protect girls and women? When the moderator asked for one-word suggestions of how Malala has helped the causes of youth and progress, one of our Afghan girls who is only 14 years old gave a cheering reply with the word “hope”, saying that Malala with her courage has given girls the world over some hope that they matter and can have real lives of contribution instead of just being property and trapped in early marriage. Others mentioned such words as “drive” and “change,” and one of the leaders encouraged the audience to chant the words ”momentum” and “time for action” to help get the United Nations moving on these goals.

While the programme ended after only an hour, it was an impressive show of youth interest in the work of the United Nations and the impact that both Malala and Ban Ki Moon are having in such forums as courageous and outspoken leaders. Also, while Malala was obviously speaking about women’s rights and equality, the audience held a large number of boys and young men, several promoting causes such as the curbing of sexual violence. So the outlook was unusually positive – even while many who attended know that the UN’s Millennium goals will expire in 2015 and urgently need reenactment; also that the UN is facing a heavy dose of acute political problems that can sidetrack or slow down such humanitarian concerns and efforts.

As for our Afghan girls, they were thrilled to meet with Malala, both formally and also outside for some cherished pictures. One or two even spoke to her in Pashtun, a language shared by neighboring sections of both their countries. Since all five of our students attended a special school in Kabul called SOLA and have made remarkable progress in learning English and in being accepted in the United States for either high school or college, they are walking examples of the goals that Malala and Mr. Ban Ki Moon were both promoting. And it was thrilling to be part of such a scene here in New York, seeing the challenges for world cooperation and education as well as a sample of how it really can work and offer hope for us all.

 

UN Women Beijing+20 global campaign

By Jane Lee, Communications & Outreach Associate, YWCA of Queens, USA

jane

YWCA of Queens Delegates

On Thursday, June 26, 2014, several staff and students from the YWCA of Queens attended the launch event of the UN Women Beijing+20 global campaign at the Apollo Theater, New York, USA. Our HSE students were eager to listen to the amazing line-up of speakers and performers, ranging from the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to noted feminist leader and activist Gloria Steinem. “Our goal is to rekindle the spirit of Beijing to re-energize all of us in our work to advance women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She added “the vision laid out in Beijing, with 12 critical areas of concern for women, still resonates deeply around the world. It is still unfinished business.” It was truly inspiring to listen to such a range of successful women of all ages from all over the world all advocating for gender equality and human rights.

“Our goal is to rekindle the spirit of Beijing to re-energize all of us in our work to advance women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Rousing the crowds, she added “the vision laid out in Beijing, with 12 critical areas of concern for women, still resonates deeply around the world. It is still unfinished business.” – See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/6/press-release-beijing-20-launch-event-in-new-york#sthash.jQpd7zph.dpuf

Among the topics discussed were education for girls and women worldwide, the issues of rape and domestic violence, employment and wage gap between genders, women empowerment, and the importance of the role of men in our society to eliminate gender inequality. These subjects were discussed in insightful speeches, musical performances, as well as spoken poetry. Tiffany Rodriguez, our HSE student who spoke at the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum was one of the attendees from the YWCA of Queens. She stated, “I was pretty amazed by how everything turned out. It was full of energy and definitely worth coming back to again.”

I enjoyed everything, especially the poetry; it stood out to me the most.” As an organisation that serves underprivileged women from diverse backgrounds, the inspiring messages from this event gave us an extra motivation to keep advocating for the rights of women and elevating our educational and social services that we provide to our community.

The Social Determinants of Women’s and Children’s Health

By Cherelle Leilani Latafale Fruean, YWCA of Samoa. She recently attended  The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) partners’ forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cherelle spoke on a panel Healthy Women and Children +Social Good.

The Effects of Climate Change on RMNCH (Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health) from a SIDS (Small Island Developing State) perspective.

Talofa lava and Good Afternoon, today I will be speaking on some of the effects of Climate Change on Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health (RMNCH), specifically from a Small Island Developing State Perspective.

Samoa and the Pacific Islands are amongst some of the most susceptible countries to climate change, with extreme weather events and natural disasters becoming more frequent, severe and unpredictable. 10389557_10202612227613360_7352717036546402737_n

There are four main effects of Climate Change on RMNCH that I’d like to highlight and they are: access to health services, infectious diseases, food insecurity and water sanitation and violence against women.

In times of natural disaster, health services and infrastructure including access to family planning and maternal health services become extremely limited if not non-existent. Women and girls are also at increased risk of sex-specific health issues such as sudden stoppage of menstruation, miscarriages, premature delivery and post-partum haemorrhage. Environmental changes such as deforestation can increase the occurrence of infectious diseases (especially those with an insect or animal vector, like malaria or dengue), to which pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable.

Women and children in the rural areas are one of the most endangered groups to health risks as they are known to live off the land .The effects of climate change decreases access to natural resources and reduces crop yields and surface water. Reduced food intake leaves pregnant women and girls more vulnerable, affecting maternal health and heightening the risks of child and maternal mortality, and malnutrition. The insufficient drinking water and/or water to use for sanitation, also leads to many health problems, including sexual and reproductive health problems.

It is also common, post-disaster, for displaced women and girls who are living in shelters to be exposed to unsafe situations, sexual exploitation and/or abuse. Violence against women almost triples during times of disaster, with pregnant women and girls, and children at the core of this very group. This affects not only their physical health but their mental health and emotional stability.

Now these are only a few of the effects of Climate Change that impact RMNCH specifically, but it is a cross-cutting issue that affects all areas of society and it is a very urgent concern. We as young people, the inheritors of the land, must partner with our leaders and states to build the capacity to develop innovative interventions that reverse the impact of Climate Change. We urge our leaders and states to take action now!

In two short months Samoa will host the UN’s Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Over 200 delegates including state leaders and influencers from the Pacific, Caribbean and Aims Region will attend. There will be a large youth delegation in active participation and the YWCA will be hosting a side event addressing “How Faith, Dignity, Culture and SRHR can aid in alleviating the effects of Poverty and Climate Change”. So with this, we have the amazing opportunity to let our voices be heard, let partnerships be strengthened and let change be made today.

Beijing+ who? And 2015 what?

By Kgothatso Mokoena, YWCA of South Africa.

My engagement with the African Union Summit

2014 has been a hectic time, for development activists, with all current development frameworks ending in 2015, noting the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and celebrating 20 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Similarly the international community now is focused on UN mechanisms, Post 2015 development framework and while the African Union (AU) is encouraging member states to align with Agenda 2063 aspirations.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

The world is now at the cusp of progress, accountability and inclusion. The tapestry of development language is weaved with the language of human rights. But practice…is NOT! My observations at the African Union and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultation Forum has caused me to be concerned that although we have such good frameworks, our leaders are still hesitant to get their feet wet.

As individuals, communities and countries begin to understand what human rights means to them, it becomes vital to place women and girls at the very heart of all these processes. Twenty years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), member states committed to support sexual and reproductive health rights of all women and girls. The result was a definitive programme of action that would compel countries, for the next two decades to focus on equality, empowerment of women, reproductive health, sustainable development and growth.

As I followed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Post 2015 Agenda negotiations, I am frustrated to see governments still arguing without logic that eradication of poverty and unemployment programmes are not constrained by negative reproductive health outcomes. I simply can not comprehend why any country would believe that a population, with a high level of teenage pregnancies and young women and girls who are forced to marry early and are unhealthy or neglected in terms of access to health facilitates would not be considered a major sustainable development issue.

Today, we no longer look at poverty as we did 20 years ago. It’s not just an income figure but a view that any circumstance which deprives one of health, education, and living conditions is poverty. That’s right; health is actually a condition that determines poverty!! In the African region, 3900 child brides live in this dire situation.

Group Photo

YWCA AU Delegation

The post 2015 development agenda must be based on human rights framework; it should commit to the gender equality goal as a standalone and must include clear commitments to young women and girls. This is a non-negotiable for us and billions of women around the world. Indeed women’s agency, voice and leadership are crucial and core to meeting the aspirations of development as stated in the AU Agenda 2063.

In the words of my good friend and youth advocate Ramya Kudekallu, “We want sexual and reproductive health rights to be considered as life itself, because the origin of all human life is (shockingly) sex. The point countless community and health workers, researchers, doctors, activists and civil society organisations are trying to get at is that every aspect of sexual health and well being is deeply connected with a nations’ well being. Sexual and reproductive health rights is allowing people, man or woman, young or old, or any race or any creed to better engage in decisions concerning their bodies, gender and relationships.”

So Beijing+ who? Beijing+20, you! MGD…who? Post 2015 Agenda…..about you! Engage now!

We all are champions through intergenerational leadership!

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar.

Yadanar

Yadanar Aung

Asia and Pacific Leadership Training was held from 2nd-8th June, 2014 in Yangon Myanmar with the theme of “Intergenerational Approaches to Bold and Transformative Leadership”. There were 30 participants: presidents, general secretaries, mentors, young women and young women leaders from Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri-Lanka, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Solomon Island.

The topics of the training are very interesting: personal leadership journey, monitoring and evaluation, advocacy, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights and rights-based approach. Moreover, we learned about human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexually orientated Gender Identity through this amazing film called “Philomena”.

In addition, together with the participants from Myanmar as Country team, we work together for the monitoring and evaluation for the young women’s leadership training institute project and we discussed about the advocacy action plan for the violence against women, young women and girls. Young Women’s Dialogue is one of the programmes where partner organisations of YWCA of Myanmar attended. The country representatives from Burnet Institute, Help Age International and Women’s Organisation recognise, realise and embrace the skills and abilities of young women. Furthermore, they acknowledge the importance of  meaningful of young women as essential.

After joining training, there are many questions in my head concerning my personal leadership journey, intergenerational approach, rights based approach, envisioning 2035 and advocacy etc. This training is totally a safe space for all to learn, share and express ourselves. As a young woman participant of this training, I feel the sense of intergenerational spirit. No matter what our positions at work, our age, our experiences, we work together as a team, we acknowledge each other, value each other, accept the diversity and find the solutions for  the problems with the solidarity spirit.

Group

Participants from the training

This whole week was a very productive week and it highlighted that “ we all are champions through intergenerational leadership!”

2nd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum

By Rajini Sureka -Youth Co-ordinator, YWCA of Sri Lanka.

2nd Asia Pacific Feminist forum officially opened on the 29th of May, 2014 at the Empress Hotel Convention Center Chiang Mai, Thailand. The World YWCA is participating in this forum with a delegation of eight women from World YWCA India Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh.

(Delegates)

(Delegates)

This forum brought almost 300 feminists from across the five subs – regions of Asia and the Pacific (Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and the Pacific) as well as global allies. Gathered around you are activists, lawyers, academics and women human rights defenders working on the multiple struggles of women in our region. We are beautiful and strong the moderator told us!

During this programme we have eight YWCA representatives from different countries. At this forum we will meet women on the front line of women’s right activism, land right activism, migrant workers, Indigenous women, rural women leaders, democracy activists, labour movements leaders, women who have been imprisoned, harassed and intimidated yet remain determined to pursue our collective struggle for justice, right and equality.

The meeting was the first of its kind – more than 300 grassroots women coming together to discuss and create waves:

  • To strengthen the capacity and skills of activists and allies to foster political, economic and cultural change for women’s right enjoyment
  • Deepen analysis and knowledge around the structural, persistent and emerging barriers to women’s right enjoyment
  • To strengthen and share advocacy strategies to address the political challenge and opportunities facing feminist movement
  • Deepen solidarity, alliances and foster movement building amongst women’s right advocates and allies regionally and globally.

Even on the first day I felt extremely inspired and prepared to go back my country and to use everything that I have learnt here at the 2nd Asia Pacific Feminist forum. At this meeting our main focus has been to build networks with other organisations and sharing HER future: The Future Young Women Want. I am looking forward to work with my amazing group during this forum. Dviya asked the question in the opening plenary ‘how do we as a women’s movement call on our governments to account for non action on implementing women’s human rigths’. As a group of YWCA mobilized young women we are ready to talk, listen and contribute.

When you see it, you be it!

By Laurie Gayle, YWCA of Great Britain.

I want to spend a little time extracting some data for us to digest before going on to talk about how YWCA programmes address the gender gap relating to STEM.

Laurie Gayle

All the experts agree that the greatest job growth in the world is predicted to be in the industry of engineering. There is an enormous shortage of engineers and big data talent to meet industry needs now and in the future and so, attracting more women to these fields is critical to solving this problem.

So, why is there a problem? Overall it comes down to the world not producing enough students with the right skills. In the last 20 years, engineering enrolment has remained stagnant in the US despite enormous industry changes. Whilst technology has radically evolved, interest levels have not and this is particularly true for women and girls.

Just 18% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, 10% of practicing engineers are female and 3% of technology CEOs are women. Why? Because of the slander that says these fields are men’s work only. We, as women, committed to equality, must get better at challenging this. It is NOT a fact that some jobs professions are just better suited to men. Let’s all remember what I’m about to say and repeat this when appropriate: Whilst you are entitled to your own opinion, no matter how wrong, you are not entitled to your own facts.

So now, I want to establish a little bit of a baseline. Who has heard of Stephen Hawking? How about Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the Harlem Plantearium in New York? Who can name a woman, let alone a woman of colour or who has a disability, with the same level of recognition in those fields?

This is a large part of why this issue is so multi-layered and the crux of it for me is a simple doctrine: We are what we see. Women and girls don’t see themselves doing certain careers, certain things, because they literally don’t see themselves doing these things. If you don’t see a woman playing sport, if you don’t see a woman engaging in politics, if you don’t see women taking on leadership roles in their community or working in academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, you’re less likely to conceive that one day you could or should be doing these things.

There’s some really interesting research that has come out from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media about this. What they found is the media (that’s film, television, news outlets etc.), do not portray or highlight women engineers or computer scientists at all. An interesting exception however, is in the United States, particularly on television, where women forensic scientists are extremely well-represented because of shows like CSI. What the data tells us is because there is significant saturation in media representation for this field, and women in this field, there is less work to be done in achieving equality in forensic science because of this: women gaining forensic science degrees has risen 75% over the last decade. So, the proof is there that several layers of society need to bump up showcasing women in STEM roles because clearly, when you see it, you be it!

The YWCA movement of over 25 million girls and women the world over is great at recognising this. I want to highlight what one of the YWCAs here in the States has been doing around bolstering interest in girls around STEM.

The YWCA of Pittsburgh runs three distinct programmes designed to supplement regular academic settings and bring girls to STEM and STEM to girls. ‘Tech Girls’, ‘STEM Impact’ and ‘STEM Art’ are all about nurturing girls’ confidence to use STEM tools, improve basic literacy and coach girls to utilise and interact with STEM to encourage creativity and expand their horizons.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. Think about strategies you think would work to integrate girls into STEM. What can you do as an individual? What can you do as a community? What do you expect civil society and NGOs to do in terms of programming? What should our Governments be doing? What sort of societal changes can start the domino effect?

To sum it all up, I want conclude with something Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. We cannot take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. This incremental approach towards equality isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better at insisting for ‘now’ and not settling for only a footstep forward. The reason this is important is because of this statistic which, when I read it, rocked my world. If we keep adding women to STEM fields, and politics, and other arenas at the rate we have been, we will not reach gender parity for another 800 YEARS. Whilst we all know that statistic is simply unacceptable, it’s not unchangeable. So let’s do something about it.

 

 

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